Sunset event popular in Kailua
By Eloise Aguiar
Advertiser Windward O'ahu Writer
KAILUA Merchants here have a message for the organizers of the city's Sunset on the Beach/Rediscover O'ahu events: Come back soon.
Business people here say the festival Jan. 26-27 was a success, though they measure that in terms of energy, not money.
Business has been off in Kailua since Sept. 11, as it has been across the state. But city officials say Sunset on the Beach/Rediscover O'ahu drew as many as 10,000 people on Jan. 27, a Sunday. That matched the numbers seen in Waikiki, where the event Sunset on the Beach began in November to help stimulate the economy. The Kailua event was the first to take the idea to O'ahu's neighborhoods in a concept called Rediscover O'ahu.
How much money changed hands in Kailua is still being evaluated, but it was clear that the influx invigorated the business community, despite being rained out on Saturday.
"We were selling things nonstop the whole time," said Linda Briggs, boutique owner of Ocean Arts Gallery. "Even with the rain, Saturday was real good, and Sunday was better. Everybody was in a great mood, working really hard. It was fun."
Lucy's Grill & Bar was one of the few restaurants that opened for lunch on Saturday, and owner-chef Christian Schneider said he sold enough tacos before the rain began to cover his overhead costs for both days.
"The community came out in force," Schneider said.
The event had its problems. Besides the rain, an attempt to get an ATM on the beach fell through, and the coupons offered by vendors failed to make their way to visitors.
But overall, merchants and city officials were pleased with the festival, successful largely thanks to business participation that far exceeded expectations.
Some 75 businesses took part in the Rediscover O'ahu, which allowed them to sell or promote, when the city had hoped for 20. In addition, 12 restaurants sold food.
Many business owners praised the event, said Pohai Ryan, executive director for the Kailua Chamber of Commerce, one of the sponsors.
"Some of them felt it brought out creativity and energy they haven't had since they opened their business," Ryan said.
Cooperation and raffle donations contributed to the success, she said.
The event had all the ingredients for success, including a variety of vendors and a big crowd but whether the momentum can be sustained remains to be seen, said Malcolm Tom, deputy city managing director.
"On Saturday we were very impressed, surprised with the attendance, even though it rained," he said. "People didn't want to go (home)."
Bob Twogood, owner of Twogood Kayaks of Hawai'i, said the raffle and sport demonstrations created good will and excitement.
Twogood said he recognized immediately that the event had great potential to bring people to Kailua, and predicted a summer program would draw even more people.
"I think we can have immense success getting people over here (in the summer)," he said. "Considering the weather, we had a pretty good crowd."
The Kailua numbers didn't translate into sales for everyone, although every merchant interviewed agreed it was a good way to promote future sales.
The sailboard company Naish Hawai'i participated to gain more exposure for its products. Owner Carol Naish, one of the event's organizers, said she didn't sell anything, but was satisfied to meet new people.
"I don't know yet if it will do anything for us," Naish said. "But we did get a lot of exposure."
Karen Hoffman, who worked both days for two different merchants, said Saturday was slow and people seemed interested only in items being given away.
On Sunday, working with a different merchant, business was better. Having the right product seemed to make the difference, she said.
The chamber had hoped the all-day event would stimulate sales even for businesses that didn't participate. The city had provided a trolley service from the beach to Kailua's central business area to minimize parking problems.
The city provided tents, tables and chairs, movies and the trolley service, including six school buses that helped reduce the traffic congestion typical at Kailua Beach when events are held there. On Sunday the city brought in mulch to fill in the muddy spots, and 400 additional chairs so people wouldn't have to sit on the ground, Tom said.
Kailua residents said did not find the event overly disruptive.
This month the weekend Sunset on the Beach will return to Waikiki.
Reach Eloise Aguiar at firstname.lastname@example.org or 234-5266.